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If that extra copper piping you had laying around has suddenly vanished, the Genesee County Sheriff's Department says you probably didn't misplace it.

More than likely, it was stolen and sold for scrap.

"We've noticed a significant increase (in thefts) as the price of metals increases," says Chief Investigator Jerome Brewster. Copper and iron are the most commonly taken items - anything from copper piping, to yard decorations, household items, antiques - "anything not nailed down," says Brewster. He estimates that deputies are making at least one arrest every day now for scrap theft.

He attributes the criminal phenomenon to the state of the economy. Many people get into selling scrap and sharing profits with the person who donates it, but once that well runs dry, they'll turn to stealing to maintain the cash flow.

"Usually it'll be adandoned property or abandoned-looking property...they're not usually going inside, but as the mood strikes them, they will," Chief Brewster says. Some are even bold enough to rip entire networks of piping out of a home.

"In the LeRoy area, a house with the baseboard heating: the copper in every room upstairs, downstairs, and the basement, was cut out," he says.

The common criticism is to blame the scrap yards for accepting the materials and not reporting to police, but the Chief says all area scrap yards have been very cooperative. Any suspicious items are set aside and shown to authorities, with the name of the supplier logged on-record. Some items are easily recognizable; for instance, Brewster is waiting for a truck recently stolen from someone's front yard to turn up.

"But a copper pipe is a copper pipe, is a copper pipe," says the Chief, which makes pipe thefts hard to investigate or prosecute.

The one key that often leads to an arrest is citizen awareness. In the baseboard heating theft in LeRoy, the closest house was mere feet away, but no one reported anything. Chief Brewster says the effort must be greater, to simply pick up the phone and call.

"Call us and say, 'You know, there's a car next door I haven't seen before and something just doesn't look right - would you mind checking it out?' Those are the calls we love to get," he says.

To report suspicious activity, you can call dispatchers at 345-6350, or simply call 911.

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